In 1988, Sega released a video game console, the Sega Genesis, also known as the Sega Megadrive in certain parts outside of North America.
As the box shows, the game that shipped with the console was Sonic the Hedgehog. The popularity of Sonic the Hedgehog was one of the many factors that led to the high sales for the Sega Genesis.
However, having come out in 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog wasn't the original game to come with the Sega Genesis. The original game that shipped out with the Sega Genesis that was later replaced by Sonic the Hedgehog was a game called Altered Beast.
Altered Beast was a side-scrolling beat 'em up developed by Sega in the same year that the Sega Genesis come out in. The Sega Genesis version was actually a port, since the original was actually an arcade game.
Altered Beast was ported to other consoles, such as a radically different version for the Nintendo Entertainment System, as well as a version in the form of those cheap and primitave Tiger Electronic handheld games, including a second version for their Wrist Games line.
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Altered Beast had a fairly simple plot and gameplay. The Greek God Zeus resurrects a fallen Roman Centurion, who is ordered to rescue Zeus's daughter Athena. Athena has been captured by a powerful, demonic god called Neff, who is holding Athena in the Underworld.
In order to defeat Neff and save Athena, the Roman Centurion is given a special power. By collecting "spirit balls", the Roman Centurion can transform into an "Altered Beast": a half human, half animal hybrid with immense abilities.
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Each level follows the same premise: you start out in your human form, fighting enemies. Eventually, you find a spirit ball and transform into the Altered Beast for that level. You fight your way through more enemies until you have a boss battle with Neff, who has taken on a different form of his own.
There's a total of five levels, and five different Altered Beasts: a wolf (werewolf), a dragon, a bear, a tiger and a golden version of the werewolf from the first level.
Altered Beast was overall well received. However, the huge success of Sonic the Hedgehog led to Sega deciding to ship all post-1991 consoles of the Sega Genesis with Sonic the Hedgehog, which ultimately led to high sales for the Sega Genesis.
However, Altered Beast is still looked at as an old school, nostalgic game, and can still be bought today on both the Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network.
Since the original game hit in 1988, two more games were added to the franchise. The first came out for Nintendo's Game Boy Advance in 2002, and was a direct sequel to the original: Altered Beast: Guardian of the Realms.
The gameplay and plot of Guardian of the Realms is very similar to the original. Zeus raises another fallen warrior, this time to combat a new evil that's ravaging many realms and destroying the gods. The player gets to choose which realms to go to. Once you pick, you fight numerous enemies in a side scrolling format.
Guardian of the Realms features several new Altered Beast forms, as well as power-ups for those forms. The reviews I've seen for Guardian of the Realms vary, from some saying the game is bad or just decent, to others saying it's actually good.
I've never actually played Guardian of the Realms, however, I actually heard of the game when I had my Game Boy Advance. I can't say the same for the third game in the Altered Beast franchise, which came out in 2005.
I haven't played this version either, and I didn't even know about it until I actually started to do some research for this article. The reason being was because the 2005 version of Altered Beast was cancelled for a North America release, having only been released in Japan and Europe.
The game retains the name Altered Beast, however, it also went under the title of Project Altered Beast. This version of Altered Beast is radically different from the original Altered Beast, ignoring the previous storyline, altering the gameplay and being a complete reboot of the original.
This game is focused more on Science-Fiction, rather than fantasy, though the horror like elements are still there. You play as a man named Luke Custer, who's something called a "Genome-Cyborg". He's basically been genetically engineered to accept microchips that contain the DNA of other creatures, which allow him to transform into humanoid versions of said creatures.
Unlike the original where you transform into one Altered Beast per level, this one allows you to transform into any one you want at will. You can jump from Altered Beast to Altered Beast whenever you want, just as long as you have the microchip for said Altered Beast. The microchips are scattered throughout the levels, and you find them as you go along.
The game begins when Luke survives a helicopter crash, which causes him to lose his memory. Luke is surrounded by mutant creatures trying to kill him, which he must fight back using his powers.
The plot follows around Luke as he tries to figure out who he is and why he has these powers. We learn that Luke was the third candidate in an experiment to create genetically engineered individuals who could transform into humanoid animals.
Luke was the most successful of the three, leaving after the experiment was over to serve the government. The first two candidates, Brad and Anastasia/Anna, grew jealous and angry over Luke's success.
Anna unleashed this mutagen onto the compound where the experiments took place, transforming various creatures into mutants. She spreads the microchips that enable Luke's transformation's, further mutating creatures in the area.
Anna supposedly did this because she knew Luke would be sent in to deal with the threat, allowing her to get her revenge. However, Brad is also planning on getting revenge, launching an attack on Luke's helicopter, causing it to crash and set the game into motion.
I don't know why the North American release was cancelled, nor can I find any sales figures, which could have explained it. The reviews I have found put the game at mediocre at best, with some more negative reviews putting the game on numerous "Worst Of" lists.
From what I've seen of the game, it looks alright. However, it seems so radically different, from focusing more on Science-Fiction to giving us really odd Altered Beast's.
I hope Sega one day decides to give us another game for this franchise, returning it to it's fantasy-horror roots and giving us new and awesome Altered Beast's to transform into.